Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Adoption ethics in the media recently

Hang onto your hats, adoptive friends . . . this is a long post, but the topic is so important that I hope you'll bear with me.  My bloggy friend Missy alerted me to two articles regarding adoption ethics, specifically in the realm of Christian adoption.  Yesterday, on NPR's Fresh Air program, there was an interview with Kathryn Joyce, author of the upcoming book, The Child Catchers.  The book examines underlying motives about adoption in the Christian context, and the lack of attention often paid to ethical issues in adoption in the midst of the new "orphan fever."

And in Mother Jones magazine, there is a truly sad and horrifying article about adoptions from Liberia and other African countries that were entered into with little preparation, questionable motives, and tragic results.

The Mother Jones article is a particularly difficult read, mostly because of the frightening ethical violations and lack of education on the part of the adoptive parents.  I do feel, however, that it's important to read these articles, for two reasons: first, because it's always important to understand what our culture believes about Christians (so that we can communicate better about Christ), and second, because there are very real ethical concerns in adoption that too many Christians ignore.

I admit I felt sorrowful and defensive about the writers' lack of distinctions (or seeming lack of knowledge) about very different subsets of Christianity.  Michael and Debi Pearl and the abusive methods they teach in their books are lumped in with all of "evangelical" Christianity, when they are a tiny subculture that exists far outside most Christians' knowledge.  (The only reason I know of them is because of one real-life friend and one blog friend who were raised in abusive families/churches that subscribed to their methods.)  Likewise, the adoptive parents' ministry and magazine in the MJ article are people I've never heard of after being a well-read Christian for over 20 years.

I also wondered if the MJ reporter actually knows anyone who is a professing Christian, or if the reporter has been deeply hurt by Christians -- those are a few reasons I can think of for the lack of any semblance of balance in reporting.  The MJ article never mentions the precautions put in place by countries who have agreed to the Hague convention standards, never mentions the rigorous education requirements to adopt from Hague countries, and never contrasts the unethical, uneducated, abusive parents with an example of people who are great adoptive parents. 

Most importantly, the reporter did not seek out families who have left particular country programs because of ethical concerns.  I personally know of two families who have done this (one online friend and one real-life) -- and it would've made for better reporting to include examples like theirs.  When some Christians are aware of ethical issues, it contrasts with and holds accountable those who do not.  I understand that the focus was on unethical adoption practices, but making the article entirely one-sided does a huge disservice to the children waiting for families.  I hate to think that people are being scared away from adopting altogether by articles such as this when there is such a glaring need for loving families to step up.

I won't comment too much on the book, because I haven't read it yet.  I did read the excerpt included with the interview.  In it, Joyce mentions that part of the back story for writing this book was a friendship that began during a previous book about Quiverfull families.  She goes into some detail about her years-long communication with this woman . . . and it seems as though Joyce may, like the Mother Jones reporter, lump different subsets of Christianity together.  (Don't know what Quiverfull means?  It's a patriarchal branch of Christianity that eschews birth control in favor of God determining your family size, and can also include other practices such as women having long hair and wearing dresses.)  But the excerpt was short, so that's all I'll comment on for now.

I'm sharing the links not to upset you, but rather so we can all be prepared to answer well if questions about ethics come our way.  As Christians, we should be VERY concerned that our children come to us in ways that are above reproach.  We should be the MOST concerned.  We should be the ones raising questions first, out of our desire to honor Christ in everything we do.

But too often, we don't.

I am disturbed by the numbers of Christian adoption agencies that seem to pop up like mushrooms when new country programs open up, do not have the same high standards for pre-adoption requirements . . . and then disappear within a few years.

I am disturbed when I see some families get their children home very quickly, when I know other families working with the same country (and a reputable, by-the-book agency) who wait for years.

I am disturbed when other types of orphan care are not mentioned . . . such as sponsor programs, micro-loans for parents to earn a sustainable living, etc.  We should be equally excited about caring for children in-country, who will never be adopted, and creating solutions to alleviate poverty (the reason some families place their children in orphanages.)  Often in church settings, in-country care is never mentioned -- and adoption is presented as the only solution.

I am disturbed when Christian "orphan" conferences do not include the perspectives of any adoptees.  We need to be asking them about their experiences -- they are the experts, and their experiences are actually more important than mine, as an adoptive parent who was the only one who had any choices about my children's adoption experience.

I am disturbed when adoption agencies and adoptive parents don't take time to understand the foreign country's perceptions about orphanages or adoption.  (In many countries, impoverished parents will admit their children to an orphanage so they will have food to eat -- fully intended to get them back in a couple months, when the crops are in, etc.  They have no idea they're agreeing to relinquish their kids permanently.)

I am disturbed when I hear Christians talk about adoption as a mission field, or as saving orphans, or being a means to spread the Gospel.  Of course I will teach all of my children about loving Christ, but first and foremost, adoption is about committing to parent and love a child -- a real, flesh-and-blood child.  When we make it about a cause, we turn a child into a project, which is just dehumanization, plain and simple. 

We Christians who are committed to ethical adoptions need to be ready to speak up.  I know corruption and deception can happen in Hague countries too, and I would hate to unknowingly be part of that scenario.  But we are doing everything in our power, from our agency choice to our country choice, to our dedication to pre-adoption education to make it a good, ethical, beautiful, redemptive thing.

And I'm committed to spreading the word.  Last week, I spoke to our church's moms' group about adoption, and my focus was on the many complexities of international adoption, including loss and grief, making sure adoption is ethical, and being well-equipped to parent in new and different ways (for becoming a transracial family, and for parenting hurting children). 

So I'm speaking up in my little corner of the world!  And I hope you will take opportunities to do the same thing.  Our kids, and all children waiting for stable, loving families, deserve no less.


Brad and Renae said...

Amazing post Nancy! I need to go back and study these articles - I hadn't read any of them. There is sooo much here to digest - but I agree with you whole-heartedly. I too don't like the PAPs with the mind-set of "saving a child" - when I really think so much of adoption ends up being God's way of "saving us" - saving us from our self - our selfishness, our sin, our busyness, our lack of focus on God - raising kids REQUIRES the focus back on God, no doubt... challenges with these kiddos with special issues can only be faced with God - and we end of changing ourself in the process. First and foremost a mindset of "saving" doesn't dignify the child... and they deserve human dignity. We have to think beyond just adopting kiddos - because reality is -- there are too many kids to adopt and too few families willing.... and God knows all this ... he loves the orphan and even He doesn't just make it so to get every last child in a family - so we have to wonder - is there not a larger picture here globally on how we should "care" for the orphan? I do think that some of the good Christian conferences we attended in our training did address the idea of "not saving kiddos" and also the broader view of orphan care - beyond just adoption. You gave us a bunch to think about - thanks for your boldness :) Some of the ethical stuff... I can't imagine ever being a part of that -- that just pains my heart to think a family will "loan" their child because of food to find their child is now adopted elsewhere. This practice - along with one-sided reporting is the kind of thing that makes countries want to close down - and I don't blame them. Lord Jesus, come!

Miche said...

So wonderfully said. I had never heard of those groups you mentioned but I'll look them up so I can respond if others ask. It is funny, but I did start this journey as a "save a child" mindset, but as years of learning and education and finally getting to the point of doing the dossier and teaming with an agency, we have learned so much and made sacrifices that no longer seem like sacrifices at all to bring our daughter home-learning everything we have so far has been such a blessing and such an eye opening experience on children, life, and families-and the world. Adoption has blessed us greatly and we haven't even finished yet. And I am so sad about the uneithical parts-that is what pushed us to know the country and agency we chose was the right one for us-we knew everything was being done with the best interests of the children and with the mindset of finding families to fit the children's needs, and not the other way around. I love our agency. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I love hearing what experienced adoptive parents have to say :)

Peter and Nancy said...

Thanks for weighing in here, Miche and Renae! I really appreciate your passion for children, and wanting the best for them in the adoption process.

Heather said...

Thank you so much for this post. I have to admit, I have found myself generalizing about the Christians and adoption. In fact I just read about the "orphan care movement" and the Summit 9 Conference here: http://www.creatingafamily.org/blog/adoption-domestic/biggest-challenges-facing-evangelical-orphanadoption-movement (note, I am Heather and I did comment on the Creating a Family post, but I'm not the Heather who commented about Hana Williams, whose story I don't know anything about). The fact that it's even being called a movement makes me a little queasy.

I agree we need more perspectives such as yours.

And I love what you commenter said about the saving mindset. I agree wholeheartedly as I commented on Creating a Family that raising a child to believe they were saved robs them of dignity and negatively impacts their self-esteem.

Kristi said...

Great post, Nancy! We are not Christian, but have crossed paths with several Christian families of the "saving" mentality, and it really infuriates me. I know these folks aren't representative of all the Christians we know, but they do seem to be a disproportional group in the adoption community for some reason. While we were attending our adoption education classes, we ran across people who were trying to create "mega-families" and had specific goals to convert their children to Christianity in order to save them. Religious conversion should not play a role in adoption, in my opinion...the only goal should be to form a family. I will certainly teach our future daughter about our spiritual beliefs, but ultimately, what she chooses to believe is up to her. Do I hope it will be similar to my beliefs? Of course! But I won't love her any less if that's not what happens...in fact, I would be so proud to have raised a child who can thoughtfully form their own ideas about spirituality, and I would have great respect for that. What you said about "dehumanizing" the children by making them into conquests is so true, and it makes me sad that these families get through the system. Thanks for sharing this and helping inform others. Your actions show the true and beautiful spirit of your beliefs!

Von said...

Encouraging to see this post and the new thinking on transantional adoption beginning to gain traction. You'll find me at http://eagoodlife.wordpress.com where I have quoted you in my latest post on the ethics of adoption.Keep up the good work!